Over the last several years, Kenai Peninsula College has experienced an “insane” amount of growth, contends Director of Student Services Bill Howell.
The college’s continual, steady growth of more than 40 percent has lead to two things, he said — an expansion of services and better opportunities for a quality education. But, it has also caused growing pains.
“Right now, we are really short of space,” Howell said. “We are short of space for faculty offices, we’re short on lab space for the various programs … so that’s the down side of this tremendous growth we have had. It means we are bursting at the seams over here as far having room for all of the stuff we are trying to do.”
However, two recent decisions by the University of Alaska Board of Regents will help alleviate the burdens created by student population increases and the physical space needed to administer a growing curriculum, he said.
On June 3, the board of regents unanimously gave formal approval for a student housing project at KPC’s Kenai River Campus.
Alaska voters approved funding for the project last year through a general obligation bond that included $16 million for the facility, according to a news release.
“I think it is a good thing that it seems to be registering with the university and the Legislature and the voters that, ‘Hey, they are doing good things over there at KPC … we need to throw them a bone — they need some more space,’” Howell said.
The state Legislature also included $1.8 million in direct cash funding for KPC’s student housing project in the proposed capital budget, which currently awaits a decision from Gov. Sean Parnell.
The project was previously allocated a lump of money in last year’s capital budget, but Parnell vetoed it, citing concerns that he wanted to wait to fund it until the voters approved the bond issue and the board of regents to approved construction, Howell said.
“So, we will see if the governor is as good as his word, or if he red-pens that $1.8 million again,” he said.
The student housing will provide space for about 100 student beds in an approximately 35,000 gross square foot facility with room for resident assistants.
Design of the facility will start this summer, while construction is scheduled to begin in June of next year. Students are expected to be able to move into the completed building by August 2013.
Howell said the college hasn’t yet picked a design firm to start working on the layout of the building and that the projected $16 million is a “ballpark” number.
Currently there are no dorms or student housing services at Kenai River Campus or at any of KPC’s other branches.
“We’re kind of breaking new ground,” Howell said.
KPC Director Gary Turner said getting student housing has been a 37-year endeavor. But he and Howell agreed that the college has been working hard on the idea for about the last eight years.
“It has been a longtime dream held by many and worked on by many,” Turner said.
There were two main reasons for the student lodging desire. The first was to accommodate the growing student population, Howell said. KPC has a total enrollment of 2,700, of which about 2,000 attend school at the Kenai River Campus.
“With these unique programs that we are offering, people are interested in coming here from around the state … and we routinely have to tell them, well you are going to have to go find a place to live out in the economy.”
But it is to also “open the door for other students who would be interested in coming here if there was housing,” he said.
Howell said much of that interest could come from Native Alaskans who live in rural areas and are looking for an alternative to college in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau.
“Going from a village of 300 or 400 people to a city of 300,000 people like Anchorage is a tremendous culture shock and they have a high attrition rate for students,” he said. “To make that jump … well, some are successful but the numbers say it is tough for those students and we think we could serve as a really good bridge campus.”
All told, Howell said the college is confident the college “shouldn’t have any problem filling it within a couple of years.”
The Board of Regents also approved in February another KPC project at the Kenai River Campus valued at $14.5 million. That project — a Career and Technical Center facility — is currently in the design phase. It will be about 15,000 square feet and will house the college’s process technology, instrumentation and electronics programs when complete.
“Moving those programs over there will open up room in this building so then we can expand some of our other programs,” Howell said.
All in all, Turner said the decisions make for a “very exciting time” at the college.
“With almost $32 million worth of construction over the next two years with two major facilities, it is going to change the college tremendously,” he said. “Having a residential life program, having close to 100 students living on campus 24/7 — that changes the complexion and the complexity of a college.”